Meet Dov STUCKER, co-founder of BCL and Former VISIONS Leader
Former VISIONS program director Dov Stucker co-founded an award-winning semester program for high school students and still uses knowledge and experience he gained from VISIONS today. Let’s meet Dov!
When I was in my twenties (and let’s be honest, when I was in my thirties and even my early forties), I imagined that by the time I hit mid-life I’d have it figured out. Now that I’m here, it’s as clear as ever that life is still a work in progress. Every day is a grapple, but I’m lucky to love what I get to wrestle with. I teach in a program that I co-founded, the Burlington City & Lake Semester [BCL]. In BCL, a diverse group of high school students gets to step away from their typical schedules and earn full credit while using the city as both classroom and curriculum. It’s place-based, experiential, and values-based. Essentially, it’s the fullest expression of VISIONS that I could muster in the context of public school. If you were to ask my colleagues back in the formal high school setting how their day, week, or semester has been, too many of them are depleted. It’s amazing that I get to do something that feeds me.
On paper, I am a teacher, but in reality the job is far more like directing a VISIONS program. It’s a thousand things at once – community organizing, group-process facilitation, personalization, experiential design, synthesis… and the elements oscillate so frequently that even after doing this for years it can still be off-throwing. But I love it. For most of my classroom-based colleagues, “prep” looks like crafting a lesson based on teacher-chosen material and outcomes; in my case, “prep” often includes collaborating deeply with community partners who are addressing real-world problems, and then designing for emergence. (For a window into the day-to-day experience, feel free to check out BCL’s blog.) And then there’s the rest of my life! I’m a parent to two remarkable, dynamic, musical, heartful girls. We’re busy – some would say over-scheduled – but we still try to sit down for family dinner every night. It’s a lot. Life is tiring. But in my family, we call it “problems of abundance.”
What was most memorable about your VISIONS experience?
My wife and I are currently planning a brief sabbatical, and we’re aware that it’s easy to default to being a tourist. The antidote to superficiality is having purpose and people. In my experience, VISIONS programs were filled with both. Each session, our group was welcomed. We had the opportunity to fold into the lives of local friends. And we were there to offer something real and valuable. Reciprocity and mutuality were baked into the experience. In Guadeloupe, I inherited the relationships that those who came before me had nurtured, and I was responsible for leaving even more trust behind in my wake. All of this created the conditions for purpose, connection, and meaning.
I’d be lying if I didn’t also say that I miss the ladies who sold hand-cranked coconut sorbet on the roadsides, each cup flecked with lime zest and nutmeg. I miss the wind that combed the black sand beaches. I miss the vibration of Zouk pumping out of cars’ open windows, and the sound of Creole in the churchyard. I miss the constant tug-of-war between feeling comfortable and feeling unsteady. In that place, every moment felt so alive.
Guadeloupe Staff, 2002
Director Days, circa 2002
What did the VISIONS experience teach you about yourself and life outside yourself?
VISIONS informs so much of my current practice… In BCL, students experience a VISIONS-style Circle/Bilan, straight out of Chris Mathna’s playbook. At the end of each semester, teachers write “Three Plus-es and a Wish” letters. Other elements, from Morning Meeting to 1-on-1 check-ins, feel similarly VISIONS-inspired. In Guadeloupe, I feel like I began to understand and embody the experiential learning cycle. For the 20 years that followed, I’ve been experimenting with how to bring it to life for my students and my community.
I also feel lucky to have spent my formative years working in an organization that was designed backwards from a set of core values: community-building, empathy, stewardship, joy, and connection.
What is something that makes you hopeful for the future?
What makes me hopeful is relationships. You can’t build empathy without having relationships with people, and you can’t take care of a place without a relationship with the land. I love that I’ve been able to invest in these relationships, and help others discover their own connections.
I’m not going to lie, I’m also deeply scared for this world. I have a hunch that you’re with me. After all, there are real things to be scared about. My hope, when I can muster it, comes from the fact that what the broader world needs is actually what individual people desperately need, too. It still floors me. At the start of every semester, I expect it to take weeks for students to make the transition into a learning environment where they are truly seen – and every semester, without fail, it takes less than two days.
Katherine recently wrote a piece on VISIONS’ values regarding technology, and how to recenter humanity. That piece resonates deeply, and aligns with a piece I recently published. When it comes down to it, what gives me hope is the fact that what Visions has done for decades, and what many of us are continuing to practice, has always been the answer.
What’s on your playlist?
Ah, you saved the most important question for last!
Driving with the summer windows down…
On a chill Sunday morning…
Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon
Willie Nelson, who’s still making great music in his 90’s
Dov and Family, 2023
Owen Clarke is a writer for VISIONS. A career outdoor journalist, his work appears in 30+ international magazines, including Iron & Air, Climbing, Outside, Rock and Ice, SKI, Trail Runner and The Outdoor Journal. He is also the executive editor of Skydiving Source and Indoor Skydiving Source.
Meet Santos Ramos, our “Saint” of VISIONS Dominican Republic. Since 1991, Santos has been an integral part of VISIONS, dedicating his life to serving communities, building schools, and providing homes. Read on to discover his remarkable story and lasting impact.
Meet Rosa Maria Espino, a devoted Community Partner in Cotui, Dominican Republic, whose love for her family and community shines through her work with VISIONS Service Adventures.
Gillian became a leader for the VISIONS Dominican Republic summer program after volunteering with us as a teen in Peru, and incorporates the experiential learning VISIONS emphasizes into her daily life as a university student in Byron Bay, NSW, Australia. Read on about her adventures!
Georgia has been leading teen volunteers in the Dominican Republic for three years running. Her passion for Spanish, Latin America and experiential learning – and her time with VISIONS – has fueled her goals and influenced her choice to pursue a Master’s Degree in International Development.